Very recently, we invested several weeks walking line-by-line through the moving story of Ruth. Today we turn to other urgent ideas. These are of such moment that, if we receive them, they change our whole approach to what we believe. Where you start very largely determines where you end.
There is a classic book many of us have on our shelves, titled Pilgrim's Progress. It is a fictional account of the journey of a young man named Christian on his way to the city. Along the way he interacts with a variety of other characters, all of which have interesting names, like Pliable, Formalist, Piety, Discretion, and so on. One he meets is aptly named Mr. Worldly Wiseman, who sees himself to be a reasonable and practical man.
He tempts Christian to give up his religious quest and live a contented secular life. All of the characters in Paul Bunyan's allegory are archetypes, possibilities of who you and I are underneath, or those whom we might meet. Now in 2013 hundreds of years after the book was written there are no fewer Mr. Worldly Wisemen out there for us to encounter; doubtless there are many more. And is our faith proved and tested? Are we ready for ideas we encounter in our own Christian pilgrimage?
We shall consider four ideas in circulation today.
- That the Bible is not inspired (as most Christians have understood the term)
- That there is no such thing as Bible prophecy (such as most Christians have understood it)
And the opposites:
- That the Bible is inspired (as many Christians have understood it)
- That there is such a thing as prophecy (as many Christians have understood it)
You and I may be settled in our thinking. I hope that today we share a sense that the Bible is inspired and that God speaks through the phenomenon of prophecy. Yet, even if we do, we cannot be sure that neighbors, coworkers, or relatives have a grip on these commitments. What's more, these long-standing ideas are constantly being challenged. Many Christians who have never faced newer arguments may be unready to respond to them. Then there are friends and others who may wonder about certain ideas they have heard some offer.
First then, what of the idea that the Bible is not inspired? It boils down to thinking that the ancient manuscripts record the thoughts of men, regular men, uninspired men, men who wrote what they thought, or what they wanted to be the truth, but actually wrote only out of their own imaginations. It is the idea that there is nothing more than the human in these writings; there was and is no phenomenon of inspiration operating to keep error out of the text, or to cause every part of the Bible to be in harmony with every other part. Yes, there is a collection of documents we call books of the Bible, but in this view they are seen only to be writings written by men, preserved by men, edited by men. These were preserved and employed by those who found them useful for controlling people.
Proceeding from this point of departure is the concept that other groups are equally legitimate, other stories are equally true, other stories were suppressed, locked-out, kept back, censored and hidden.
One begins to see the deep results of this. The Bible is removed as a guide. It is one book like any other, a collection of particularly old and well known stories, but that is all.
All that it has taught about the human condition, the trends of the human heart, is now up for grabs and able to be freely denied. Other, more current ways of thinking about right-doing, wrong-doing, sex-roles, authority, creation, and so on, are all given fresh space, for all that you grew up seeing as certainties are not only now open to question, but completely written off as untrue, at best, mere guesswork.
Nor need we exercise much imagination about how this impacts one's view of prophecy. If there is no inspiration, no divine intervention in the thoughts of men and the communications of the prophets, there certainly is no such thing as prophecy in the classic sense, to see before occurrence, for God to predict and communicate through His prophets because He is above history and sees through it to the a later point in time. If the Bible is not inspired, then descriptions such as those in the book of Daniel and in the book of Revelation which exactly echo the development of history must have been--obviously were--written after the fact. They can only be faked reports. God didn't foresee, prophets didn't predict, God's people were not warned.
Then the idea of biblical prophecy is only a means to control others, propagandize, manipulate, and corral them. Then prophecies are malleable, plastic, opaque. Then they are only human writings.
And so, one sees that these ideas rob the Bible of authority and destroy basic Christian presuppositions. In place of the authority of Scripture, then, other ideas are offered teaching other things.
An Opposite View
Christians hold an opposite view (which we shall spend the remainder of our time unpacking): the Bible is inspired, God-breathed. It is the result of an operating phenomenon of revelation. From beyond human boundaries, from the one God of infinity, from the divine persons, He sends special insight to we mere creations. Knowledge our human situation renders inaccessible to us, He gives to us. He revealed truth through His prophets and inscripturated that it in the pages of the Bible.
Earlier this year, Edward Snowden revealed to the world many things about the behind-the-scenes workings of superpowers. He had access to these things and, to the consternation of human governments, he revealed them. In contrast, God Himself revealed to humans that to which He alone had access, and He did it freely. He wanted us to know about the Great Controversy War, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit, about His plans to redeem and restore. He wanted us to understand that His Word is a trustworthy, authentic, authoritative revelation of truth to us.
And so, there is an urgent difference between the Christian view and the "the Bible is just like any other book" view. Those who reject the idea of biblical inspiration are saying that there is nothing to reveal, no master plan, no fallenness in the world; there is only what the world simply is. There is no real beyond, nothing to reach. There are things we do not yet know. How different then the Christian picture, where God intends to reveal and undertakes an extensive, expensive plan to share with an alienated, mutated creation, who He truly is. He has infinite power but respects human free will. He will force none to believe Him or receive Him.
God Longs to Reveal
God wants to reveal. The Bible is not a book of secrets. In story after story, God comes and reveals Himself. In Genesis 18:17 God initiates a discussion with Abraham about Sodom and Gomorrah. In passages like Genesis 37:5-11; 40, 41, etc., He sends dreams. He appears to Moses at a distance as a burning bush (Exodus 3:2). He sends Jesus to reveal (John 1:9, 14, Hebrews 1:1, 2). And the Scripture evidence just keeps piling up.
Does the Bible speak of mysteries? Yes. But in virtually every case they are intentionally revealed. The Bible is not a cryptic code book from which to extract bizarre interpretations available only to those who have figured out God's secret sauce. It is a revelation given in love to seekers and to His children.
Inspiration an Actual Phenomenon
Your Bible tells you the story. In 2 Timothy 3:16 it says that "all Scripture is inspired" (KJV), or "God-breathed." In the Biblical language this is a combination of two words: one for "God," and one for "blow" or "breath out." All Scripture, all writings particularly superintended by God (the 66 books of your Bible), are breathed-out by God. They partake of a phenomenon that is original with God, that comes from the Creator. What is more intimate than breath? The picture here of the Bible is that it originates and comes to us from God as His breath.
The Bible writings are here seen as originating in God in a special way, in a manner unlike other writings. Other writings are merely written by men. They originate in creatures; there is no animation in them. Jesus, the source of our life ("in Him was life," John 1:4) could thus say, "the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63).
The phenomenon is seen again at 2 Peter 1:21. The source of these ideas is not in men but in God. Inspired writers "spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (ESV). God's breathing does not originate in man but in God. Just as there is no life in us, innate to us, so there is no God-breathed word in us. The writings that make up the Bible are much more than merely human production.
The Bible is a Harmony
Not only is there an actual manifestation of the phenomenon of inspiration, it is also important to recognize that the Scriptures as God has caused them to come into being are manifested in a harmony. The Bible does not contradict itself, but all its content fits together and is complementary.
There are several ways to show this. We can compare histories with prophecies and with their fulfillment. We can compare the four gospels with each other. We can compare the prophets with each other. We can compare the Pauline writings with each other. Some will find what they think are disagreements, but upon inspection these are actually seen to be in harmony.
The self testimony of Scripture is that the Bible agrees with itself. No less than Jesus confirms this. Consider what He tells the disciples along the Emmaus road:
And he said to them, 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself (Luke 24:25-27).
Jesus finds a fundamental agreement in the Scriptures. From Genesis onward, the Bible fundamentally agrees in its testimony concerning Jesus. Our Lord explains systematically from the beginning of the Bible how all the revelation of God points to His role of Messiach. When He is revealed to them as being Jesus as He breaks bread and disappears out of their sight, they speak of His opening the Scriptures to them. That is, when Jesus expounded on His role in the plan of salvation from beginning to end, not randomly but systematically through all the Scriptures, they saw the reality of this fundamental unity. Again, hear verses 44, 45:
Then he said to them, 'These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.' Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures.
Remember, Jesus is never mentioned by name in any of the Hebrew Scriptures. And yet, the Bible is filled with clear references to Jesus for those willing to see them. In this passage from Luke after Jesus resurrection, when Jesus speaks of Moses He indicates the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. When He spoke here of the Prophets, He was referring to the books of the Old Testament we call the Prophets. And, when He referred to the Psalms, this was the common shorthand way of referring to the last of the three sections of the Hebrew Bible, which we today call the "Writings." Here, then, Jesus is referring to all the Hebrew Bible (the New Testament had not yet been written when He uttered this). Jesus and the plan of His salvation is the fundamental thread that ties together all the Bible. Jesus revealed this harmony, and they began to understand this harmony.
Again and again we read the words "as it is written" in the Bible. One part tells looking forward and a later part tells looking backward. A study of the words used for "fulfill" in the Bible is most instructive (the following list is limited to references in terms of historical kinds of fulfillment: 1 Samuel 3:12; 1 Kings 2:27; 8:15, 20, 24; 12:15; 2 Chronicles 1:9; 6:4; 10:15; 36:21, 22; Ezra 1:1; Psalm 148:8; Isaiah 44:26; Jeremiah 29:10; 33:14; 39:16; Ezekiel 12:23; 21:7; Daniel 4:33; Matthew 1:22; 2:15, 17, 23; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 26:54, 56; 27:9; Mark 1:15; 14:49; Luke 4:21; 21:22, 24; 22:37, 44; John 12:38; 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 18:9; 19:24, 28, 36; Acts 1:16; 13:27; James 2:23; Revelation 10:17; 17:17). Because the Bible is fundamentally a harmony with itself, an earlier part is brought to fullness, completion, totality, by a later part. This idea of fulfillment is very prominent in the New Testament. And this all makes sense. It is one thing to make predictions; any fool can do that. But to record prophecies over hundreds, sometimes even thousands of years beforehand, and then to see them fulfilled so long afterward, points to a superintending God.
So, what does all of this mean for us?
We should remember that we are not alone in this universe; we are created by a personal, benevolent, all-powerful being. Yes, we live in a sin-devastated landscape. Earth is the one place in the universe where rebellion to God's rule is found. The creation has been grafittied, the natural world testifies of its origins in a distorted voice. But earth is also the one place in the universe where God is revealing Himself to fallen creatures and sending them His Word. His goal is not that we be reshaped to fit into this fallen world in which we dwell, but that we be transformed, changed, made new through His Word. He has sent out His Word to heal us (Psalm 107:20). Free will is both dangerous and precious. We are in the situation we are in because of a human misuse of free will.
It only makes sense for God to give the Bible if humans have been given free will to respond in obedience or in rebellion to this Word.
Some people out there today have big ideas. They doubt the inspiration of the Bible, they disbelieve in the testimony of the prophets. They think they have explanations to call into question the self-testimony of the Bible. We see otherwise. A loving God reveals Himself in this Book. It all fits together in a harmony. It has all been protected to achieve exactly what God intends it to. He warns us that His word will not return to Him empty, but will achieve the purposes for which He sends it.
We can trust this Word, a truthful testimony about the way things are. God does not err, and has provided for us in this Book an infallible revelation of His will. The Scriptures are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God's acts in history. They are a gift of guidance to us from Jesus at the very end of time. If you believe in Christ, you cannot afford not to prayerfully read from them every single day. Hallelujah!
Bonners Ferry ID SDA 2013-10-12